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Bure once again burying goalies
BY DAVID J. NEAL
Panthers right wing Pavel Bure tried to caution in September that 50
goals shouldn't be the standard for superior goal-scorers anymore.
With better goaltending, bigger defensemen, defensive systems still
ruling and obstruction erratically called, Bure figured the line ought
to be at 40 goals.
Reminded of that Wednesday night, after he racked up Nos. 36-38 against
Phoenix, Bure laughed, ``I'm not there yet, so I've still got work to do.
But we'll see what's going to happen.''
Barring injury, what will happen is Bure's fifth 40-goal season and,
probably, his fifth 50-goal season. For the latter, Bure has to score 12
goals in the last 24 games, the first of which is tonight against Boston.
``He's such a pure goal-scorer that it's scary,'' Panthers coach Duane
Sutter said. ``I'm sure that he gives the goaltenders a lot of nightmares.
I'm certainly glad he's on our side.''
Until four weeks ago, it seemed Bure would just make 40 goals by the
wire and his only shot at 50 goals would be on Nintendo. His 23 goals after
47 games had him on a pace for 40 goals at 82 games.
But the past 11 games have seen a different, more inspired Bure than
earlier in the season.
That coincided with the return of a healthy Viktor Kozlov as Bure's
center to send the Panthers' top line into orbit.
Bure has 24 points (15 goals, nine assists) in those 11 games. Kozlov
has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in the same stretch and has gift-wrapped
at least three of Bure's goals with dazzling passes.
Wednesday night against Phoenix on a five-on-three, watching Kozlov
and Bure was akin to seeing a boxer wind his right arm repeatedly, then
pop in a left jab. Kozlov got the puck in the left circle, Bure went to
the right post, and defenseman Teppo Numminen was caught in the middle.
Kozlov stickhandled back and forth, looked over at the far point, at
the near point, at the bench and up into the crowd. Meanwhile, Numminen
kept flinching, with every hint of a pause from Kozlov, knowing Bure was
behind him. Suddenly, Kozlov whipped the puck through Numminen's skates,
and Bure whacked the pass home.
Another difference from earlier in the season: Bure fanned or popped
several of those passes over or wide of the net. That play was a staple
of the Panthers' power play last season.
Bure also is converting breakaways and partial breakaways, other Bure
specialties that repeatedly short-circuited earlier. So now for Bure, the
term ``goalie'' is just a synonym for ``victim.''
Of watching Bure on a breakaway, Sutter said: ``I'd like the players
to stay sitting down so I can see. I've got to stand on the bench to watch.''